Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? (And How to Do It)

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? (And How to Do It)The death of a loved one is always a painful event, one with costs that go far beyond the initial emotional shock of losing someone that you care deeply for.

In addition, the death of a loved one is often doubly painful when the cause of that death is the negligence or intentional actions of someone else.

That is why Americans have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit when they are seeking justice and fair compensation for the unnecessary death of a family member. But what is a wrongful death lawsuit exactly, and how can you file one to get the justice, support, and closure you seek? Read on to find out.

I write a lot about how to live longer in my book Life is Long. Dealing with death is often a subject people tend to avoid. I feel we must make it more natural to talk about various aspects of death and dying. We need far more open conversations. With this in mind I bring you this helpful guide.

1. What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

First, it is worth briefly explaining what a wrongful death lawsuit actually is. As mentioned, this is when the loved one of a deceased person files death charges against a defendant who is being blamed for that person’s death. The lawsuit can only be brought against the defendant if there is a credible belief that the defendant has directly caused that person’s death and is, therefore, liable for damages.

This can mean that the defendant caused wrongful death via negligence (i.e. dangerous driving or medical practice) or intentionally. The latter form of wrongful death lawsuit is often pursued when the criminal justice system is seen to have failed the loved ones of the deceased person.

2. Who Can File?

So, who can actually file a lawsuit for wrongful death? The answer is that it depends on the state you are in. In all states across the US, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit if you are the child or the spouse of the deceased person. For example you can bring in a Wyoming wrongful death lawyer or a New York wrongful death lawyer – depending upon where you live.

In some states, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit if you are a member of the deceased person’s extended family, such as a sibling or a grandparent. In this case, you may need the approval of the deceased person’s next of kin before you file the lawsuit.

3. When Can You File?

You might be wondering when you can actually file a wrongful death lawsuit. Again, this depends on your location. In most states, you must file a lawsuit within two or three years of the recorded date of the individual’s death. However, in some jurisdictions, you must file within as little as 90 days.

In addition, you might be wondering how long wrongful death lawsuits actually take to complete. With a clear case and a good lawyer, you could be wrapped up in a few months. However, this process can take several years.

4. What Damages Can You Collect?

So, who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit? The money will always be paid to immediate surviving family members according to state succession laws. This nearly always means that the first-in-line for damages with being the spouse, surviving children, and parents, in that order. If there are no surviving spouses, children, or parents, the damages will go to the next of line. The kind of damages you can collect from a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Medical bills and funeral expenses
  • Earnings that the deceased would have earned if they had lived to a normal life expectancy
  • Compensatory earnings covering emotional damages suffered by family members
  • Punitive damages to discourage future negligence on behalf of the defendant

5. How To Commence A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

By now, you already know whether you have the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit and if it’s within the time limits required by law. Thus, the next step is to learn about how you can actually commence a wrongful death lawsuit in court. 

Here are the following steps to take:

  • File the necessary documents – In most cases, the first document that you should prepare and file is the complaint that states the factual and legal grounds for the case. 

Along with the complaint, you should also file a summon that notifies the defendant of the fact that he’s being sued by you as well as the court where the case will be heard and tried. After the filing of the necessary legal documents, the defendant will be provided copies of these documents, which serve as an official notice of the lawsuit.

  • Attend the litigation process – This is the stage where the trial will be conducted by the judge or jury. This usually involves different tasks such as a discovery phase, request for documents, interrogations, and many more. While a negotiation for a settlement is possible at this phase, litigation will continue if it still fails despite diligent efforts to settle. 

During the litigation, your lawyer will present pieces of evidence and argue in your favor. When everything is done, the judge or jury will issue a judgment that contains an award. 

As you can see, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be a complicated process. In order to help you, it’s best to hire a legal professional to represent you in court. Most personal injury lawyers are skilled in helping clients to get the justice they deserve as well as collect the damages you’re entitled to. 

Resources to Help You Move On

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you get the closure and justice that you might need to move on from the untimely death of a loved one. For supportive emotional resources that may help you heal from a loss, check out my video course The Anxiety Cure.

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